From limones to limeade

There are many varieties of citrus fruits in Costa Rica. Today, we are here to show you how limones become limeade! The juicing process is fairly simple, but can be labor intensive when dealing with hundreds of limes at a time. It is a very important process, as the juice will be mixed up for students and guests throughout the year.

Milking: From the stable to the kitchen

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Today, we follow Evan and Trevor to the stable where our cows are milked and our pigs are kept. Although we have more than 20 cows on campus, only four to six are milked daily. During the times they do not have a calf, the others remain in our pastures.

Milking begins every morning at 6:20 and again in the afternoon at about 2:30. After the short trip to the kitchen, it is heated just long enough to come to a boil. The milk is used for our very popular hot chocolate every night as well as cream for coffee, baked goods, and even to make cheese.

Bananas

Bananas are one crop we have on the farm here at UGA Costa Rica that I knew nothing about when I arrived. I think they may be my favorite plant that we have. First of all, bananas are the largest herbaceous flowering plant, and the fruit, botanically speaking, is a berry. The plant looks kind of like a small tree and each one produces only one bunch of bananas before it dies.

141018_kdi_farmetc057We have bananas growing in a few places around campus. These are from a plantation next to the main farm.

We have three varieties of bananas on campus. There are cuadrados, which are a slightly square variety that can be eaten cooked or raw; plantains, which are bigger, tougher, and eaten cooked; and then a sweet variety that is usually eaten raw and is called “banano”, the Spanish term for banana.

To the left is a nearly full grown bunch of bananas. It’s a bit hard to see how it connects to the tree, but you can see that they grow upwards and there are quite a few per bunch.

Banana plants produce flowers, and the bunch of bananas grows along the stem of these flowers. As you can see in the photo to the right, the flowers are open at the beginning of the process and they close once all the bananas have begun growing. The banana variety in this picture are plantains. Even with these not fully grown plantains you can see that they are bigger than the sweet bananas.

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These are some sweet bananas in a fairly similar point in their growth.

141018_kdi_farmetc051 (1)This is a banana flower. I know you already got a pretty good look, but our photojournalism intern took this picture and it’s a pretty shot.

141018_kdi_farmetc050 (1)These are caudrados. They are about the same size as the sweet bananas but they have sharper edges. Most people like to eat them cooked but I think they’re really good raw if you get them at just the right time (which is once they’ve turned yellow but haven’t gotten kind of woody from sitting there too long without being harvested).

 

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Here’s the whole operation. It’s easier in this picture to see how it connects to the tree and how it relates in terms of size. The bunches are actually quite heavy, which can cause problems when harvesting them. I’ll cover that in another post.

 

 

 

I’ll leave you with this picture of a tiny banana tree. Like I said earlier, banana trees only produce one bunch of bananas and then we cut them down.

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Fortunately, small bananas spring up right next to the large ones and the cycle goes on. On the one hand, there’s something kind of sad about taking this beautiful mother/daughter banana tree combo and hacking the mother tree to the ground. So it goes. On the other hand, I like bananas, and chopping them down with a machete is just as much fun as it sounds like it would be.

In a follow-up post I will attempt to make a tutorial covering the harvesting process.

Fighting the Gusanos

Our sustainable agriculture intern, Evan, works on the farm six days a week along with Marlon, who manages the farm and stables. They noticed that our lettuce beds were being eaten by gusanos, the Spanish word for worm. We believe these gusanos are beetle larvae that cut through the soil looking for nutrients.

They devised an experiment to find the best way to deter these pests. Watch the video below to find out their three methods as well as get a look at our farm and greenhouses.

Don’t forget to check back next week to find out the results!

Introduction to the UGACR Farm, Part 2

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Thank you for reading part one of my introduction to the farm at UGA Costa Rica. Today, I’ll share a little bit about our greenhouses and other crops we grow here.

This is a better picture of our large greenhouse. The top keeps the rain out but allows sunlight to go through. As you can sort of see, we are growing lettuce in the bottom of the greenhouse, and grass up top. We are growing the grass on purpose, which is strange for a farm, but I will explain it more fully in a later post.

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Here’s a look at the beds. We’ve put branches on the bottom to limit erosion. The bed featured in the photo is made up of cabbage. I know that this picture makes things look fairly chaotic, and sometimes they are, but this was from early on when we were losing the battle against the weeds. The beds look a bit more organized now.

IMG_0142 This sign warns people that the fence is electric. It hurts if you touch it. Believe me. I’m not speculating.

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One cool thing we do here is that we compost both the weeds from the garden, and food waste from the kitchen. The weeds from the garden go into large piles that look like the one above. The food waste goes into the building below. In both cases we are warm composting, which involves raising the temperature of the material being composted high enough that bacteria and small insects can break it down. The heat is generated by letting the compost sit, though it must be turned over periodically so that every part gets warm, and water must be added occasionally to help sustain the bacteria.

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We plant a variety of crops, although the most common are lettuce, cabbage, and carrots. The top picture is a type of lettuce that is new to the farm, and is pretty funky looking.

To protect the lettuce and cabbage from the elements we plant it in small trays and then transplant it once it is a bit hardier.

This is about as big as we want to let it get before it goes into one of the beds. As you can see the plants are running out of real estate.

We grow a bit of sugarcane, and it makes a great snack if you cut it down and chew on the white stalk.

This is called chayote, and tastes like squash. It grows on these vines and we don’t have to do anything except go around harvesting it every couple of weeks.

Stay tuned for more updates from the farm!

An Introduction to the UGACR Farm

My name is Evan Senie and I’m the Sustainable Agriculture Intern at UGA Costa Rica. I’ll be doing some blogging focusing on my work at the farm. The farm here at UGACR is organic, and the food produced is used to feed the volunteers, students, and tourists who stay at the facility.

We use terraced beds on the farm, due to the relatively steep grade and the fact that during the rainy season there is significant water flow down the farm.

IMG_0097There are many crops on the farm but the first one I’ll mention for now are the bananas. There are actually three things that grow from similar looking trees but I’ll cover them in another post. This plantation is behind the farm and we harvest these every couple of weeks.

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For those of you who don’t know, this is how bananas grow. There is a large flower that hangs down and then extends upward in bunches. Once they’re ready we get to chop the entire tree down with a machete, which is awesome. If you’re not good at it (I am not good at it), it is possible to chop the tree in such a way that it crushes the bananas, rendering the entire exercise useless.

Assuming we avoid this unfortunate outcome, the bananas go into this bucket to ripen for a few days before we bring them to the kitchen.

We have to put a top on the bucket because of the monkeys and the pizotes, or coatis. The monkeys seem cute but they’re actually thieves.

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Thief

To wrap up, here’s a sunset picture from the farm. It’s got a nice view out to the west over the mountains. Part two of the overview will look at some more of our crops, composting, and our chickens.

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